McShane and Colchester have been assigned – Torchwood: The Red List provides rich, character based drama as the two quarantine buddies get cabin fever
Amazingly, it’s now been six years since Big Finish’s Torchwood range began. Since the beginning it’s set new standards for Doctor Who related audio adventures and quickly grown to be one of the jewels in the Big Finish crown. Unsurprising, as it contains some of the finest character work and skillful storytelling across their whole output. But also because it’s been consistently excellent. The Red List is Torchwood’s 56th release in a monthly series that’s rarely dipped below par and contains almost no true clunkers. And based on this latest offering, it’s a track record the Torchwood team have every intention of keeping.
Like recent boxset Ashenden, The Red List illustrates how Big Finish have created their own Torchwood universe, with its own complexity and history. Mr. Colchester is the deeply sardonic, pathologically unimpressed Torchwood agent introduced in the Aliens Among Us series. Billed as ‘Torchwood Series Five’ that had Jack and Gwen assemble a whole new team around them to continue defending Cardiff and the world. Giving Colchester this solo outing the monthly range speaks to the team’s confidence in the world they’ve built. A character who never appeared on television now the selling point of his audio play. Well, half the selling point, at least. Because The Red List sees Colchester match wits with a certain Dorothy McShane of A Charitable Earth. Yes, 2021 is the year Torchwood meets Ace. And they better be ready.
3 Across: It’s cold in Lizzie’s hat (11)
The Red List feels rather old school for the Torchwood range. Like many of the earliest releases, such as Fall to Earth’s tale of Ianto on a crashing plane with nobody but a telemarketer on the other end of a phone for company, it takes its small cast, contrives a trap to put them in, and steadily turns up the pressure. In this case McShane and Colchester are neighbours in a quarantine hotel for visitors to a fictional South American country. Forced to spend ten days isolated to ensure they don’t bring ‘viral malaria’ into the country, they pass the time exchanging vegetarian sausages and pickles across their balconies, solving a crossword, and developing increasingly wild conspiracy theories about the hotel’s true puprose. But, of course, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
2 Down: Counterfeit intelligence (4,4)
Any hint of political commentary about our real world’s pandemic is quickly put to one side. The quarantine is really just an excuse to put these two characters, who would normally never have anything to do with each other, in a situation where they have to find common ground. With the tension inching up incrementally over the course of the hour, the play’s main focus is the guarded camaraderie that develops between the two. They bond over a shared dry wit, keen intelligence, and deep curiousity about what’s really going on.
Familiarity with Colchester’s gruff weariness if a help to enjoying him reduced to living in a hotel room week, but it’s not essential. He’s a finely drawn personality familar to any office, even with his licence to kill aliens. And he’s so well played by Paul Clayton that any listener can relate to the slow disintegration of his patience. Similarly, while Ace hasn’t always been the most consistently written character, the version of the post-Doctor Ms.McShane presented here is a brilliant addition. Wry and intelligent, she’s the same headstrong, passionate woman she always was, tempered with experience and wisdom. When we get future appearance by a more mature Ace, it shouldn’t definitely be this one.
1 Down: Winds take wing (9)
Colchester’s in town to meet ‘El Presidente’ and thwart a possible alien invasion of the country. McShane is here to try and bring in food and medical supplies caused by recent disasters… and thwart the alien incursion that might be behind them. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing Colchester hates more than meddling do-gooders who work at NGOs, it’s those ultimate meddling do-gooders the Doctor and their former companions. While McShane knows and despises Torchwood by reputation.
It makes for a lovely dance of mutual respect and passive aggressive hostilities between them as this odd couple try to get the bottom of the mystery. Who is leaving ominous messages in their rooms, and how are they getting in to do it? Why does Colchester’s television turn itself on in the middle of the night? And what is it making those sounds in the air vents? Or are they just jumping at shadows as the isolation puts their imaginations into over drive?
4 Across: A singular hole (5)
The Red List isn’t the most involved or dramatic story in the Torchwood range. But as a contained character piece it’s a lovely insight into two great characters. It gives space for the enviable talents of Sophie Aldred and Paul Clayton to shine. And it allows us to compare the two aspects of the Doctor’s legacy. Both the people the Doctor’s changed and left behind to go forward in all their beliefs, and Torchwood, which was set up in fear of him. And it certainly leaves you wanting to hear more from Colchester and McShane soon.
Torchwood: The Red List
At first it was lights in the sky. Then the country started falling apart. Torchwood has come to help. So has A Charitable Earth. But there’s a problem.
Mr Colchester and Ms McShane find themselves trapped in a quarantine hotel in the middle of an alien invasion. Can they save the world without leaving their rooms?
Torchwood: The Red List is available to own as a collector’s edition CD at £10.99 and as a digital download at £8.99, exclusively from the Big Finish website. Big Finish listeners can also save more by ordering Torchwood #55-60 in a bundle.